Bengaluru FC 3 – Odisha FC 0
1) Paartalu Bullies Visitors Into Submission
How often does one see a player create three goals in a match through pure physical intimidation? Erik Paartalu did just that and once the second goal was scored in the twenty-fifth minute, Odisha raised the white flag and effectively signed out of the contest. Bengaluru and the Aussie in particular are very strong on set-pieces but there was nothing that Marcos Tébar could do to stop Paartalu win a header for the opening goal. He seemed to injure himself in the process and Aridane Santana was given the responsibility for the next one. It was probably not a good idea as the Spaniard had entered the game with a slight niggle. Paartalu slipped clear of him too and set up another goal. Both Tébar and Aridane were immediately hauled off and the tie was over. Poor Martin Guedes was handed marking responsibilities and couldn’t resist clutching at Paartalu’s shirt at a third set-piece. A penalty was awarded and Sunil Chhetri happily tucked in his effort. It would be fair to say that the Aussie owned the night.
2) Odisha’s Incredible Penalties Stat
Given how the game had gone, it would be fair to conclude that the visitors are terrible at set-pieces. They are also very good at conceding the worst set-piece possible, a penalty. They have given away a spot kick in SIX out their last SEVEN fixtures. It is a mind boggling statistic and if the attention of the coaching staff has been drawn to it, whatever they are trying isn’t working. There are a few youngsters in the backline and around the squad but while a couple of those penalties were saved, it must feel for the players like they are walking into each match effectively one goal down. There are plenty of positives to take away from Odisha’s season but a solution to this particular problem must be found very soon.
Chennaiyin FC 2 – Jamshedpur FC 0
3) Schembri Finally Makes One Count
André Schembri’s finishing or lack of it would have made the headlines in their previous fixture if it were not for Rafael Crivellaro’s world-class goal. He should have scored a hat-trick before half time in that game and he could have had one in this game. As it turned out, he found the back of the net once and had his first goal this month. It must have come as great relief to a player who had not quite caught the wave of goal-scoring that Nerijus Valskis has. He will hope to kick on from this game and add to his goal tally of four for the season. He should remember his role in turning Chennaiyin’s season around. His first goal for the club was also their first of the season and ended a seven-game drought that spanned two seasons. The Machans have come long way since then and the Maltese player has the talent to make more season-defining contributions.
4) Lack Of Quality Showing At Jamshedpur
In my season preview, I had shared concerns about the age of the foreign players being brought in. Noé Acosta was 35 at the time and Piti, 38. Bikash Jairu and Memo who played in the backline in this fixture are both on the wrong side of thirty as well. The lack of legs has grown apparent the more the season has progressed and Piti has been out for the count since early November. He made a couple of brief appearances in December but was back on the treatment table almost immediately. When one adds extremely young Indian players to the mix, the squad forms a curious cocktail of talent. They have one of the league’s best strikers in Sergio Castel but with Jamshedpur losing the physical battle behind him, there isn’t much that he can do.
Hyderabad FC 1 – Mumbai City FC 1
5) Hosts Play Party-Poopers
Hyderabad have had to make peace with the fact that they will be this season’s wooden spooners. The team still have a lot to play for, especially with newly announced manager for next season, Albert Roca, watching. Javier Lopez was on the touchlines for this one and the interim head coach was pleased with the effort the team put in. Outplayed in the first half, Hyderabad stayed in it till the very end and were rewarded with an equaliser in injury time. No player epitomised that spirit more than Adil Khan and it augurs well for the club that he has extended his contract till 2023. Others will be keen to make their case too and with nothing to lose, the team could spoil a couple more parties.
6) Islanders Rue Missed Opportunity
With only a couple of added time minutes left in the game, Mumbai were in fourth spot and ahead of Odisha FC. In a blink of an eye, that vanished as Bobô used all his experience in drawing Pratik Chowdhary into a foul in the box. For all the Mumbai players’ protestations, the referee stayed with his decision and Marko Stankovic converted the penalty. Jorge Costa spent the next fifteen minutes chuntering away into the ears of everyone in his vicinity but his players should really have put the game to bed a lot earlier. With only one goal to their name, they were asking for trouble and the hosts delivered. In theory, they are in a strong position with three of their last four games at home. However, the Mumbai Football Arena has not been a happy hunting ground this season. This was a big opportunity missed.
FC Goa 3 – Kerala Blasters 2
7) Boumous Form Keeps Bedia On The Bench
Coro gathered most of the headlines last season with his goal scoring exploits but Edu Bedia was possibly the best supporting act in the league. He scored seven goals and assisted six as the Gaurs reached the final. Hugo Boumous was an important presence too, but he mostly played when one of the other overseas players were injured or suspended and as an impact substitute. The roles have reserved this year and the Frenchman has not shown any inclination to relinquish his starting spot. With two well taken goals against Kerala, including the late winner, he now has six goals for the season. It is more than the number he had for the last two seasons combined. He can still be a petulant figure on the field as he was on the night but there is no question that he has raised his game this season. Bedia will have to bide his time.
8) Blasters Need A Miracle
Kerala’s playoff hopes are over. Seven points behind Odisha with four games to play in the regular season, they will in most likelihood have to win all four to retain slim hopes of qualifying. As I mentioned last week, this is a franchise that has never won more than two games on the bounce. They would have to come up with something really special and while the squad has shown admirable spirit and resilience this month, they sadly lack in quality. There have only been a handful of consistent performers this season. Bartholomew Ogbeche and Messi Bouli have been at the heart of everything good along with Mohammad Rakip at right-back but the promised revolution will take time as Eelco Schattorie keeps reminding everyone.
ATK 1 – NorthEast United 0
9) Balwant Emerges From The Shadows
Balwant Singh is one of the surviving members from Steve Coppell’s summer splurge last season, Pronay Halder being the other. ATK had tried to buy success by securing the services of the best players from other franchises. In came the likes of Manuel Lanzarote, Kalu Uche, Everton Santos, John Johnson, Andre Bikey and Gerson Vieira. It did not quite work out for any of them and Balwant could not replicate his form from Mumbai City either. He scored just the one goal in over a thousand minutes of action. With Roy Krishna, David Williams and even Jobby Justin ahead of him in the pecking order this season, he has seen only ninety-six minutes of game time. He made some of it count against the Highlanders though, coming on in the 90th minute and securing three points with seconds remaining in the game.
10) NorthEast’s Season Is Over
When the Highlanders kicked off against ATK, they did so with eleven players who had not contributed even a single goal this season. NorthEast have scored only nine times, the least of any team in the league, and three of their four goal-scorers are no longer at the club. Asamoah Gyan had been ruled out due to injury for the whole campaign while Maximiliano Barreiro and Panagiotis Triadis were released in December. Redeem Tlang, the only other person to find the back of the net, started this game on the bench. He did come on in the 74th minute but it would not have mattered anyway. This team does not even look like scoring and have only netted once in almost two months of football. And that goal came courtesy a penalty they should not have been awarded in the first place. The season is over for Robert Jarni’s men and it is time to head back to the drawing board like Hyderabad have done.